High School English: A Waste of Time?
No one wants to teach grammar because it's not fun: Kim Brooks
By Evann Gastaldo, Newser Staff
Posted May 15, 2011 3:14 PM CDT
High school students should be doing more of this.   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – Sometimes, while Kim Brooks is grading essays by her college composition students, she cries. "Not real tears, exactly—more a spontaneous, guttural sob, often loud and unpleasant enough to startle my husband or children," she writes in Salon. Why? Because many of these students "simply ... cannot write." They don't have basic skills, like knowing how to organize paragraphs, how to write a thesis statement, how to outline, how to proofread or edit, or even "how to make sure their sentences contain a subject and a verb." Is this the fault of the traditional high-school English class, full of class discussion but little writing and almost no grammar education?

That class, of course, was where Brooks herself "learned to read literature, to write about it and talk about it and recite it and love it." But nowadays such a course seems almost like "a profound waste of time." Brooks' students tell her about presentations, fancy group projects, and skits they did in high school, but much of the writing they do—as confirmed by one English department chairman—is "informal," partially because teachers are more concerned with keeping students engaged than educating them on comma usage. Understandable, writes Brooks, but it leads to "migraine-inducing, quasi-incomprehensible prose." Do kids even need to know how to write? As a fellow professor observes, "We've all gotten emails or cover letters where we've judged people based on the writing." Teaching these essential skills may not be fun, writes Brooks, but "sometimes we do things not because they're fun but because they're important." Click to read the rest of her thoughtful column.

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May 16, 2011 9:46 AM CDT
I graduated magna cum laude in the EE curriculum and i would say English literature and composition were the most valuable courses i ever took. If i had it to do over again i would become a Lit teacher. It's probably the greatest job there is and it requires more thinking than just about any other. You basically work with ideas all day long. Nothing will keep you in better mental shape. English literature is probably the hardest subject. To decipher the themes and symbolic content in great writing you can't rely on purely mechanical skills like you can in calculus or physics. You have to think and there are no formulas to give you the correct answer. Technical courses just require robotic memorization. Literature will also tell you about yourself and thats the most important thing you can ever learn.. It's not even neccessary to explain how important composition is.
May 16, 2011 9:40 AM CDT
Kim Brown is a grammar nazi! Lulz!
May 16, 2011 6:38 AM CDT
My high school English classes did teach grammar and writing skills. So did my English Comp I class in college. Even so, it always seemed pretty easy to me, very natural. I'm nowhere near perfect, but at least I can make myself understood. I still can't quite understood how people I went to school with STILL can't form complete and proper sentences, when I know for a fact that we had the same education growing up. In some cases, I know it was because they didn't care. They got others, including me, to proofread their work before handing it in. I didn't realize at the time that by correcting their papers for them without attempting to have them figure it out for themselves, I was letting them get by without learning those basic skills. I can't help but wonder how the lack of communication skills affects people beyond school. If I were an employer, I don't think I'd be happy with a job application or resume filled with grammatical and spelling errors. It's not necessarily a measure of intelligence, but a person needs to be able to make themselves understood clearly, both in speech and in writing, or it will reflect poorly on themselves and whoever hires them. By choosing, in many cases, not to care about these basic skills, they may be limiting themselves for the rest of their lives. You may be the smartest and most thoughtful person in the entire world, but if no one can understand what you have to say, it doesn't count for much,